Did you know that a weekly or monthly ticket for MARC commuter rail and certain types of tickets for VRE commuter rail, during the time when they are valid, are also good for unlimited rides on
every many other transit systems in the DC and Baltimore region except for Metrorail
? It’s a well-kept secret, and an example of a partnership across agencies that should happen more often.
MARC, or Maryland Area Rail Commuter, is a service of the Maryland Transit Administration that operates daily between DC’s Union Station Baltimore Penn Station via New Carrollton throughout the day in both directions (the Penn Line), as well as rush-hour trains on weekdays between DC and Baltimore Camden Yards via Greenbelt (the Camden Line) and DC and Frederick, Maryland/Martinsburg, West Virginia via Montgomery County (the Brunswick Line).
Virginia Railway Express (VRE) is a service of two Northern Virginia regional transit commissions that runs weekday rush-hour trains, in the peak direction of travel, between DC’s Union Station and Fredericksburg and Manassas/Broad Run.
You can buy single ride, weekly, and monthly MARC passes, all for a flat fee. That obviously gets you onto a MARC train, but if you show your ticket to the driver, you owe no additional fare on
all many of greater Washington’s bus services, including Metrobus and RideOn DC Circulator
RideOn. Your MARC ticket is also an unlimited pass to all of Baltimore’s transit system, including the subway, light rail, and buses. Simply show it to the station agent when entering the subway or to a fare inspector on light rail.
Similarly, a paper VRE ticket (single ride, weekly or monthly) is valid for rides on any bus service that connects with a VRE station (including Metrobus, ART, DASH, Fairfax Connector, FRED (Fredericksburg) and PRTC/OmniLink buses) at no additional fare. VRE riders can also purchase monthly Transit Link Cards, which are like SmarTrip cards, but are good for unlimited rides on both Metrorail and VRE during the month.
These features make MARC and VRE passes a great deal not only for those who travel regularly between DC and Baltimore, but also for commuters who come into DC from places like Rockville, Gaithersburg, Kensington, College Park, Greenbelt, New Carrollton, Alexandria, Crystal City, and Franconia/Springfield. MARC and VRE riders can use buses (and VRE riders with Transit Link Cards can use Metrorail) to cover the first or last mile at either end of their train trip as well as to get around on evenings and weekends, all for no additional cost.
There are precious few other examples of similar interagency cooperation in our region. One notable one is the interchangeability between DC’s SmarTrip (administered by WMATA) and Baltimore’s Charm Card (administered by the Maryland Transit Administration); either card works on all the greater DC jurisdictions’ bus systems (including regional bus passes loaded onto a SmarTrip). However, you can’t use a SmarTrip or Charm Card to pay commuter rail fare on MARC or VRE, except for Transit Link Cards (many other regions’ contactless fare cards can be used on commuter rail as well as local transit), and you also must have separate form of payment to use Capital Bikeshare, commuter buses, taxis, etc.
Only recently has WMATA introduced a pass that works on both rail and bus (the SelectPass), but it still costs significantly more to add a bus pass to a rail pass and vice versa. WMATA could entice more riders to buy passes and not lose significant revenue by allowing monthly Metrorail passes to also include unlimited bus rides.
VRE should offer its weekly and monthly ticket holders the same connectivity benefits as MARC does — at least for Metrobus and northern Virginia local buses, if not also for Maryland buses.
MTA, Loudoun County Transit, PRTC, and other commuter bus riders could also give their monthly pass holders the same benefits as MARC and VRE.
Eventually, there should be one card that pays fare on all the DC-Baltimore region’s public conveyances — Metro, local bus, commuter bus, commuter rail, ferries, taxis, bikeshare, and special buses like Washington Flyer and the YTS New Carrollton-Annapolis bus— to which weekly and monthly passes could be added that could include all these modes, either at no additional charge or at a discount, or as many of them as the user wishes to add.
The simpler it is to determine and pay the fare on transit, and the more people feel like they are getting a good deal by “buying in bulk,” the more people will be attracted to use all of these forms of travel and to think of and experience them as one interconnected system. MTA and VRE obviously overcame the hurdle of administrative siloing when it made deals with WMATA and other agencies for MARC and VRE pass holders. There’s no reason other agencies can’t do the same.
Correction: This article originally said that MARC passes work for the DC Circulator, and omitted facts about VRE tickets working on other transit systems. It has been updated to for accuracy.